Crowded into the bleachers without elbow room, these four through 14 year olds vibrantly danced along to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” among other Pop songs, clamored for a moment of fame on the jumbotron, and did the wave. Though Harvard lost to Northeastern 46-44, the game was overwhelmingly a win for the greater Boston area.
Harvard Athletics spokesperson Katherine Peters wrote in an email that the impetus for Education Day was to create a rich, memorable experience for local kids while also providing support for Harvard women’s basketball by filling the arena to capacity for its game against a Boston opponent.
Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith reacted positively to the crowd.
“I loved the sound and the noise. I love [that] all these kids had fun at this venue,” she said.
Delaney-Smith saw Monday’s game as an enactment of her vision for women’s sports to generate equal excitement to men’s.
“I want women's events, whether it's basketball or other sports, to be as fun as men events,” she said. “They're not because the world still is drawn to men events for various incendiary reasons.”
Freshman guard Lola Mullaney said that the kids’ presence on Wednesday was noticeable in comparison to the usual home crowd that watches Harvard women’s basketball.
“They brought a lot of energy, which we tend to not have in our games,” she said. “It was really nice that so many kids came to support us.”
1,456 people attended Wednesday’s game in total. In contrast, members of Harvard women’s basketball, on average, draw a crowd of 558 spectators per game. To watch the women’s male counterparts, 1,205 people file into Lavietes — over half of the support the women receive.
Delaney-Smith said that Wednesday’s prodigious showing convinced her that her team should interact more with the local community. She admitted that, in past years, they have done “probably not enough.”
“It probably would be good to build off of this, because I thought this was great,” she said.
Beyond creating an enjoyable experience for the kids, Education Day provided an opportunity for these young students and athletes to see the intersection between sports and education.
Elon Fyfield, a social studies teacher at Fletcher Maynard Academy — a pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade public school in Cambridge — and the winner of the halftime teacher knockout competition, said that for his students, Wednesday’s event “means everything.”
“[It] gives them an opportunity to see that they can be on a Harvard team in the future,” he said. “They could be on a Northeastern team in the future.”
A Cambridge, Mass. native, Fyfield said that sports enabled him to earn a college degree. He received a scholarship to play Division I volleyball at Indiana.
“Sports meant everything to me,” he said. “Without sports, I wouldn't have earned a scholarship,” he said.
Mullaney fondly remembered when she would attend Rutgers women’s basketball games growing up near her home in New Jersey. She recalled the excitement she felt watching those women play.
Years later, she is now one of the players who kids come to watch. She hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be in their shoes, looking up to the players on the court.
“We know that we're their role models,” she said on behalf of her and her teammates.
— Staff writer Ema Schumer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.